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ATD Blog

5 Tips for New Consultants


Thu Jul 21 2016

5 Tips for New Consultants

Many people are attracted to consulting because they enjoy analyzing problems and helping others work more happily and productively. Others have consulting thrust upon them as they rise through the ranks in an internal training department and begin to work on the design side. Regardless of how they landed the role, new consultants tend to believe that assembling convincing data and crafting compelling solutions are all that’s necessary to succeed. Surely their clients will take one look and fall in line, right?

Wrong. Excellent work is just the starting place. If you don’t have superlative people management skills too, your assessments—and assignments—may not work. Enter the Consulting Skills Certificate, ATD’s online course that can help you wise up in a hurry about how to succeed as a consultant inside or outside an organization.


During the Consulting Skills Certificate course, we thoroughly explore how to manage the consulting process from beginning to end while delivering value to the customer—and heading off trouble. ATD’s instructors for this course, including myself, are consultants who have fielded most of the curveballs a client (both internal and external) could throw. What’s more, attending these courses are other experienced consultants happy to share their expertise as well. We all learn from each other.

I encourage you to attend the Consulting Skills Certificate. It will exponentially increase your confidence to understand the entire consulting cycle—and know what you need to be doing in each phase. Experienced consultants already familiar with the phases will benefit from refining their processes and meeting other highly placed consultants from all over the country (and sometimes the globe).

I hope to see you in a virtual session soon. In the meantime, here are five things every new consultant should know:

#1. What the client says is the problem is rarely the real problem. 

Managers often conclude that the front line needs training because they’re not doing what organizational leaders want, so they want their consultant to develop a training course to fix this. Chances are, though, that the real problem is lack of effective communication or some other managerial skills on the part of the bosses. You’ll need to know how to discuss sensitive topics and sometimes push back.

#2. Sometimes clients say they’re ready for change when they really aren’t.  

Learn to recognize the warning signs; you may need to encourage them to defer the project.


#3. Resistance is almost always rooted in emotion. 

When your client disputes your findings and recommendations (and we’re assuming you’ve offered them with tact and a genuine desire to help), just rewording and repeating what you already said won’t convince her. Scary as it is, you have to find out what’s bugging her. It’s very unlikely to be your methods or your data, even if that’s what she says it is at first. Dig deeper.

#4. Thou shalt network. 

If you’re an internal consultant, you need to cultivate relationships with people you can depend on for information and support. Get to know your organization and the people in it. If you’re external, stay in touch with your clients and with others in the training field. You want them to remember you and your great work as they move among different organizations.

#5. You cannot be all things to all people.  

Some consultants begin by saying “yes” to everything because they’re hungry for work. But if your specialty is career coaching, don’t take on a customer service reform project just because you happen to be in someone’s office at the moment he thinks of it. Say it’s not your area of expertise and offer him a referral (yet, another reason to network).

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